Prof. Lisa Curran to receive Russel Award

November 16, 2000

ANN ARBOR—Lisa M. Curran, assistant professor of ecology and environmental biology in the University of Michigan’s School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) and of biology in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), will receive the University’s Russel Award for 2001.

The annual award is given to young faculty members for scholarly achievement and promise. The award will be presented March 13, followed by the annual Henry Russel Lecture given by a senior member of the faculty.

Curran was nominated for the award by Julian Adams, professor and chair of the Department of Biology, and Barry Rabe, SNRE interim dean.

In the nomination, the two said, “Prof. Curran represents one of the brightest, most committed and highly regarded young scholars currently at the University of Michigan.”

Curran joined the U-M in 1996 and holds the dual appointments under the International Institute’s initiative to foster interdisciplinary appointments that span disciplines and bring together LSA and other academic units.

“Over the past four years,” Adams and Rabe said, “Prof. Curran has become one of our shining lights, demonstrating energetic instruction, committed mentoring, and a combination of ambitious, untraditional and productive research that has produced highly regarded publications. As a result, our students have written glowing reports of her competence, her colleagues are extremely impressed, and her international recognition has become considerable.”

Curran’s primary areas of scholarship involve the ecology of plant-animal interactions, climate influences on plant population dynamics, and the political economy and sustainability of tropical forest use. Much of her field research has been based on long-term analysis of patterns from which she infers ecological processes that occur over many years or decades.

“Her research,” Adams and Rabe said, “has produced important insights into the timing and determinants of reproduction among an economically and ecologically important family of tropical trees (Dipterocarpacae). Prof. Curran’s article this year in Science, which analyzed the role of El Nino on mast-fruiting, was the feature article for that issue.”

In the past year or so, she has also had major studies published in Ecological Monographs and the Journal of Natural History. These addressed aspects of the spatio-temporal patterns of seed production and of predator responses. “The significance of her research,” her nominators said, “lies in demonstrating the importance of biodiversity in human use of environmental resources, and how various kinds of biophysical and anthropogenic impacts on tropical forests have implications for sustainability and benefits to humans.

“As a teacher and mentor of students,” they said, “Prof. Curran excels both in quality and in quantity.” She has full or partial responsibility for six instructional courses, and has been the chair or a member of 19 doctoral committees during the past three years. During the past academic year, she was a mentor for six undergraduate biology students, and was an undergraduate honors adviser for an SNRE student.

“Her reputation as a committed and hard-working adviser and mentor is widespread,” Adams and Rabe said, “which is why the students under her guidance come from no fewer than six different units within the University. Her students speak and write of her with sincere respect and deep admiration. She also has made exceptional contributions to development of new courses and fostering of interdisciplinary training.”

Curran holds an M.A. (1990) and Ph.D. (1994) from Princeton University in ecology and evolutionary biology. She received a bachelor’s degree in anthropology form Harvard University, cum laude, in 1984.

She has been with the U-M since 1996, specializing in tropical ecology and ecological sustainability. She also is a consultant to the Environmental Research Institute of Michigan (ERIM), advising the organization on carbon sequestration, forest dynamics and land use in South and Southeast Asia, and facilitating ERIM projects or proposal development in the region.

Prior to joining the U-M, she was a consultant on forest fires, carbon-offsets, climate change, and other specialty areas for numerous U.S. and international agencies, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, the government of Indonesia and the International Resources Group.

Both the Russel Award and the Henry Russel Lectureship were established in 1925 with a bequest from Henry Russel of Detroit, who received three degrees from the U-M.

Lisa M. Curran